Saturday, 13 May 2017

A machine knit item from the Great Exhibition of 1851

I've already written about a few of the items that really intrigued me in the V and A 'Undressed: A brief History of Underwear'. This is another ( and the last I shall write about). It was a machine knit man's long sleeved machine knitted undershirt. It was made in Britain and as I noted  above was in the Great Exhibition. It was labelled 'The Soltanello' - or perhaps 'sottanello'. I haven't been able to find any more information about it, even though the maker is given - 'Capper and Walters'. What I couldn't really  believe was that it was machine knitted at that time. 

If you know me well, I have a 'weakness' for machine knitting and own a couple of more vintage ones than I knit on myself but 1851 seemed a long time ago to have knitting machines that knitted this fine as well. 

So I set about a little discovery to see what I had missed. I knew the date given must be correct - this is a V and A exhibition after all. So this is a summary what I have found out. 

1589 William Lee invented a stocking frame which depended on the use of a spring and a bearded or barbed needle. The yarn was placed over the needles in a frame. This method was unchanged for the next 200 years.

1657 the Worshipful Company of Frame Knitters was incorporated

1849  latch needle ( much as we use today) patented by Matthew Townsend in the UK and James Herbert in USA

In the 1860's Pastor Isaac Lamb developed the first V bed flat knitting machine

1867 a  Mr Lamb in Northville Chicago developed an 84 needle machine weighing 15 lb and by the 1890's Lamb machines are noted as being used by home knitters throughout the world.

1924 Japan claims Masako Hagiwara invented the first knitting machine aimed at home use. This still required the yarn to be laid across the needles. I am unsure when a carriage took the yarn over the needles as in domestic machines in use now. 
I have been given the following information from ladies in the FB group for vintage knitting machine owners:
1956 Knitting machine had no tension arm
1958 Passap machine had a tension mask and carriage. 
So it looks as if the moveable carriage came in 1957/8 ish! 
Again any further information would help here! 

I have a vintage Lanofix machine that knits in this way, ie the wool is placed over the needles.  It was designed as a portable machine and the advertising with mine shows a gentleman in a wheel chair with the machine sitting on the arms. This would be World War II. It appears my machine may be one of the first models which dates from 1938 but I need to try and cross check this - very exciting. 
This is a poster for it - it seems it have had different names in different countries.

So knitting machines were available in 1851 but I don't have a clear idea of what the one knitting the undershirt might have looked like. I have tried to search the official catalogue of the Great Exhibition and found an entry that would have been good to see - an actual knitting machine! This was made by Eastman New Jersey - I think they were also connected with Photography. But so far I have drawn a blank on a drawing or photo. 

I have tried to cross check the information above. I apologise if any of it is incorrect. Please let me know if you have anything to add to this or if you have an image that I could see of the actual knitting machine that was in the Great Exhibition of 1851. 

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